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the turner house by angela flournoyMy first novel of 2016 set the year off on such a good foot – I absolutely loved The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. The Turner House is a big family story, set in a crumbling black neighborhood in Detroit. Patriarch Francis Turner has died and his wife, Viola, is getting too old to manage the family home. When she moves in with their eldest son, Cha-Cha, the other 12 Turner siblings gather to try and decide what to do about the house. The decision is complicated by the national housing crisis – the house is worth just a fraction of the mortgage.

The Turner’s story is told in two threads: the year 2008, when the Turner children are debating the future of the Yarrow Street house, and the year 1944, when Francis Turner first migrates north to Detroit looking for a better life for himself, Viola, and Cha-Cha. These two threads come together to give such depth and life to these characters, the book really is hard to put down.

I want to recommend one book for each of the periods The Turner House addresses, contemporary Detroit and Detroit in the middle of the Great Migration.

detroit by charlie leduffA lot has been written about the problems currently facing Detroit, but one of my favorites is Detroit: An American Autopsy. In the book, journalist Charlie LeDuff returns to Detroit, ostensibly to look for clues that will bring to list his family’s troubled past. As he explores, LeDuff also offers a reporter’s take on the problems of this failing city – corruption, a stagnant economy, racism and a host of other ills.

What I liked about the book is that LeDuff clearly still feels affection for his city and the people who are working – despite astronomical odds – to try and make it better. I listened to this as an audiobook, which LeDuff narrates, and you can hear his outrage in every story he reports. It’s a really interesting mashup of memoir and journalism that I think gives a strong overview of how Detroit failed and what it might mean for other great American cities.

the warmth of other sunsFor a more historical look at Detroit and the impact of the Great Migration on it and other northern cities, I can’t recommend Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration highly enough. The Great Migration refers to a period between about 1915 and 1970 when almost six million African Americans migrated from the South to escape Jim Crow and look for opportunities in cities like Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Detroit. Wilkerson breaks down this enormous story by focusing on three people whose stories help illustrate the whole, making the book both personal and broad.

What’s especially great about this book is that Wilkerson is able to show how problems facing American cities today can be traced back to responses to the Great Migration – Detroit didn’t become one of the most racially segregated cities in the country by accident, and this book gives some good, concrete history on this shift. I read this book five years ago, and still find myself thinking back to parts of it as I read today. It’s a chunkster of a book, but absolutely worth a read.

This post originally appeared on Book Riot

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.


And just like that, January is gone! The first month of the year always feels like a mess to me – I get jazzed for the beginning of the year and start in on my “resolutions,” of sorts, then get everything blown up again when I’m away from home for a couple of long weekends. It feels like a victory to get to the end of the month feeling optimistic about the rest of the year.

Which is not to say it was a bad month. On the contrary, I had a really good January. And good life events were punctuated by several really good books. Here’s what made it to my reading pile in January:

  • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (fiction)
  • The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau (nonfiction)
  • Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson (fiction)
  • Citizen by Claudia Rankine (nonfiction/poetry)
  • Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham (fiction)
  • Presence by Amy Cuddy (nonfiction)
  • The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry (YA fiction)
  • Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes (memoir)

Overall, I’d say that represents a balanced month – a nice split between fiction and nonfiction and a good representation of different authors and cultures. Five of these books technically count for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks in that they’re books I own, but two were books that I purchased and read this month, and one was a digital audio book… so really, just two books off the toppling TBR shelves.

The really exciting thing about my reading month is that I have/had things I would like to say about nearly all of them (even Citizen, although it’s so smart and so much has been written already I’m not sure I even have anything to add). All I need to do is sit down and commit to writing the rest of those thoughts down so I can share them (the eternal struggle)!

A Look to February

I’ve already done a little bit of previewing my February reading – I already shared some books to look for in February as well as some of the fun nonfiction on my shelves that I’d love to read soon. Who knows which of those books will make it into my brain this month.

I’m planning to continue with the enjoyable, frustrating slog that is Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow as part of the #HamAlong (I like the book, it’s just so long and so daunting). I’m also hoping to dig into that fun nonfiction and catch up with some January releases I didn’t quite check off the list.

Most importantly: If you’re a book blogger, make sure that you have Book Blogger Appreciation Week (Feb. 15 – 19) marked on your calendar. This awesome event, first organized by Amy (My Friend Amy), is being brought back by several of my favorite bloggers – Ana (Things Mean A Lot), Jenny (Reading the End), Heather (Capricious Reader), and Andi (Estella’s Revenge). It’s such a great positive, community-building event that I know is going to be awesome. Expect to see several posts around here that week.

February can often be a draining month – it’s still winter and the beginning of spring is still out of sight – but I’m going into it feeling more chipper and excited than usual.

How was your January reading? What are you excited to read in February?

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.

One of my bookish weaknesses is fiction with creative narrative structure. I love novels in letters, novels with dual narratives or multiple narrators, really anything that plays around with structure in some way. Both of the books I want to write about today have something a little unique in the way they tell their stories.

Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson

girl through glass by sari wilsonGirl Through Glass is told in through one of my favorite narrative twists, dual narratives. One, set in the summer of 1977, follows 11-year-old Mira and her quest to succeed in the competitive world of New York City ballet. Mira hopes to eventually be accepted into the School of American Ballet, run by choreographer George Balanchine. She gets an assist, of sorts, from her mentor, 47-year-old Maurice DuPont, and their relationship intensifies as Mira ascends in the world of ballet. In the present, the story follows Kate, a dance professor at a university in the Midwest, who receives a letter from someone in her past she assumed was dead, setting her on a course to investigate a world she thought she left behind.  

As you might be able to tell from my description, I found one of these narrative threads much more compelling than the other – one of the risks when an author tries to follow two stories in this way. While I was curious about Kate and her investigation into her past, I thought several of her early choices in the book made absolutely no sense and I struggled to get a grip on her as a character. But Mira is drawn so very well and lives in a world that’s vivid and unfamiliar. I loved learning about the intensity of this history of American ballet, especially the influence of Russian dancers on training here in the United States. It’s clear from the beginning that Mira’s story is heading on a collision course of some kind, but I didn’t know what to expect and enjoyed reading that part very much.

Overall, I thought Girl Through Glass was an interesting novel, certainly worth reading if you have a curiosity for ballet novels, but won’t be among my favorites given the weakness of one of the narrative threads.

Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham

read bottom upRead Bottom Up is another book that uses another of my favorite formats, the epistolary novel (aka, a novel in letters). In this case, the story of a relationship is told through e-mails and text messages between the potentially doomed lovebirds – Madeline and Elliot – and their best friends, Emily and David. The quirkiest marketing gimmick of the novel is that the authors, Neel Shah and Skye Chatham (a pen name for essayist Sloan Crosley), wrote the novel by exchanging emails in real time, blind to the side conversations their characters were having with each other.

I call that last part a gimmick because, to be honest, it’s hard to really see how that conceit played out as the story was being written other than, perhaps, helping to make the exchanges between Madeline and Elliot feel more authentic. The women, written by Chatham, and the men, written by Shah, certainly have distinct voices and ways of interacting that also felt genuine to me. I thought this was an engaging little book that explores some of the quirks of any relationships in a digital age – what to share, how fast to move, and how to interpret communication in writing when it’s devoid of context. I read this book in an afternoon and while I didn’t fall in love with it, I did find it an enjoyable read.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.

Off My Shelves: Fun Nonfiction

fun nonfiction

As I mentioned in my post on Sunday, I’ve struggling to find reading to fit my mood. As I thought about it a bit this week, I realized that my reading, especially in nonfiction, has been pretty serious lately… and, thanks to Alexander Hamilton, pretty dense.

So I took to my bookshelves (#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks) to find a few that seem to fit the general theme of Fun and Easy Nonfiction For My Tired Brain. Here’s what I found:

Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell – Who doesn’t love a good heist narrative?

The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting by Rachel Shteir – Cultural history many not seem like the most fun topic in the world, but I think it’s fascinating. Crime in general, especially crime that’s high-drama but low-stakes, always interests me.

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchman – I really have a dark sense of fun… but seriously, murder and mayhem! SO FUN (in books and in history, not in real life).

Cat Is Art Spelled Wrong, edited by Caroline Casey, Chris Fischbach and Sara Schultz – A collection of essays on our fascination with cat videos as well as what makes art and how we talk about taste. I’m up on the fence about whether this is going to be too dense to be fun… but gotta love that cover.

The Law of Superheroes by James Daily and Ryan Davidson – A look at how our legal system would work in the world of comic books.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach — Mary Roach is one of my go to authors when I want nonfiction that’s smart, funny and fun. This book is all about the digestive system… eew?

A couple of other recommendations in my previously read books include Stiff by Mary Roach (what happens to bodies donated to medical science) and The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette. Both of those were quite a lot of fun to read (but in the case of Mary Roach, only if you have a strong stomach).  

And with that, I would love to hear some of your recommendations. What are some of your favorite fun nonfiction reads?

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.

Currently | A Reading Machine

currently january 24

Time and Place | Around 8:30 a.m., on my couch. I’m not really feeling the computer this morning, so I think this will be a quick post.

Reading | Since last Sunday, I finished Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham (a modern love story told through e-mails and text messages) and Presence by Amy Cuddy (nonfiction about the connection between body language and our emotions). I’m still (slowly) making my way through Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow — just two weeks behind on the #HamAlong!

Watching | Last night the boyfriend and I watched Wild, the movie based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of walking 1,100 miles along the Pacific Coast Trail. I really liked it, and the boyfriend did too (unexpected!).

Cooking | Last week’s experiment with Crock Pot White Chicken Chili wasn’t my favorite — the flavors were great, but I like my soups heartier than that recipe. The quest goes on.

Blogging | This week I shared some thoughts on Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins and pondered what to do when your reading goals conflict.

Loving | We went to a new-to-us restaurant for dinner last night and I had an awesome bacon cheeseburger. I haven’t had one of those in awhile… so good.

Wanting | I really want a book that’s going to grab me. I’m not in a reading slump — I’ve finished six books already this month — but the books I’ve been picking up haven’t wowed me. The problem is I can’t quite pin down what I’m in the mood to read.

Anticipating | We don’t have anything planned today, so I’m excited to have a full day to re-energize before the work week sets in again.

Sympathies to those of you on the East Coast in the middle of that epic snowstorm — drive slowly and stay safe! To everyone, happy Sunday! What are you reading today?

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.